Sunday, March 1, 2009

Layer 128 Plodwatch, Lansbury, the T word, a More Equal Society, Creativity & Culture.

Springwatch 5 . March 1st .First day of Spring.

The crocuses in the churchyard on Friday were amazing - a huge carpet of purple and mauve spread out in 15 degrees of beautiful Spring sunshine. There was one solitary daffodil in bloom. Tiny hints of green leaves on one or two of the trees, and the first signs of blossom were on just one tree.

Leaving the space, peace and beauty of the churchyard, strolling along the main road, just ahead of me I saw two unmarked cars suddenly switch on sirens and their concealed blue lights, stopping a car that was sandwiched between them. (It makes you wonder how many of these unmarked plodmobiles are on the streets at any one time. That’s another aspect of the surveillance society that’s never mentioned.)

A bunch of ugly looking and scruffy young guys, presumably drugs squad, got out and started pulling 4 young guys from the target vehicle. Three of them were suitably shocked into meek compliance, but one - the head honcho? - started to protest and struggle.

He was pushed against the car’s bonnet, and held there, shouting, cursing and complaining. Someone had called for uniformed backup, and screaming sirens and more flashing blue lights signalled the arrival of reinforcements.

Within a couple of minutes the original vehicles were surrounded by three police Astras and three police vans of varying sizes. The original six plain clothes guys were augmented by fourteen uniformed men and women, all of them standing around, surrounded by a large crowd of onlookers like me. Was this real? Were there film cameras shooting this scene?

With the main road completely blocked, the traffic backed up in both directions, causing complete chaos and gridlock. At one point, outside the church grounds, there were 5 stationary double-decker buses nose to tail, forming an unbroken cliff of red metal. And all because one of the bad guys had over-reacted to the police.

It’s possible these things are happening all the time, unbeknownst to the likes of me, living our relatively cocooned lives. Maybe chaos and disruption is the price we have to pay for our police running to ground the drug dealers and gangsters.

We presume that the guys who were taken away in the vans were indeed bad guys.


The Wire

I’ve been catching up with Series 1 of The Wire - essential viewing I’d say for all students of today’s gritty inner-city realities. A very mixed bunch of plain-clothes policemen and women - some brilliant and brave, but flawed; and some flawed but well-meaning. They try to bang up drug dealers and other sorts of bad guys, some of whom are just trying to get by in life and have some very decent aspects to their attitudes and behaviour. The cops generally have a great liking and need for alcohol, their drug of choice.


George Lansbury

Last week there were events taking place in the East End to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of George Lansbury, the ‘forgotten’ leader of the Labour party, whose four years as leader slotted between Ramsey MacDonald and Clem Attlee.

He was an idealist, a pacifist, an anti-war campaigner, and a man who was prepared to go to prison for his support of the poor and the disenfranchised. He supported the suffragette movement and insisted on redistributing taxes to the poor.

On Friday evening there was a public meeting at the delightful Bromley Public Hall, next to the lovely Bow Bells pub on Bow Road. Tony Benn was one of the speakers - an incredible guy - still turning up for these sorts of meetings, paying respects to his forebears and their remaining grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The man’s in his mid eighties, and still as sharp as a tack, still personable and patient and passionate. Inspirational.

The New Labour bastards have done their best to obliterate all memories of the founders and former leaders of the Labour party, so thank goodness there are still some people who are prepared to honour their memories and the history & traditions of the party. Lansbury was from a time when working class MPs still lived in their constituencies and the places where they were born, and still served their families and communities. Anyone could go to his house in Bow, knock on his door, and let him know something or other they wanted to bring to his attention.

Nowadays we have the Home Secretary telling us that the bedroom which she uses a couple of times a week in her sister’s home is actually her main residence, on which she claims a massive payment from the public purse.

Lansbury, on the other hand, though often thought of as the best-loved MP of his generation, and by people of all political persuasions, was born poor, grew up poor, and died poor.



This history and memory of Thatcherism was examined on TV last week, in a long one-off retelling called Margaret, and even though it was an effort, I forced myself to watch it. Linsey Duncan was too good for the role - she made Thatch look kind of normal and attractive, at least physically. It seems the BBC is now so scared of the Tories and accusations of political bias that they cut out certain scenes which showed the old bag’s darkest side.

The producers did a brilliant job in casting the male characters - finding actors who both resembled and sounded like the vegetables in the Tory stew. Tebbit, Howe, Gummer, Heseltine, Whitelaw, Major - what a mob. Dark days indeed.

Plus ca change. Blair, Brown, Prescott, Blunkett, Blears, Straw, Mandleson, Miliband, etc.

12 wasted years. Those that didn’t actively pursue the neo-conservative agenda just sat on their hands whilst the opportunity to transform our politics and our society was squandered.


A More Equal Society?

Polly Toynbee wrote another excellent column yesterday, commenting on the fat cats and the recent report: “Towards A More Equal Society?”.

Sir Fred Goodwin defies public disgust. He just doesn't get it, and why should he? It's not his fault, it's a bad upbringing among grab-what-you-can and eat-what-you-kill predators. His feral overclass thinks it owes nothing to society: the notion of citizenship is incomprehensibly alien. You could write a "Gee, Officer Krupke" song about him: it's not his fault, he has a social disease.

Like the smirking hoodie who sticks one finger up at the judge's sermon on antisocial behaviour, Sir Fred is a product of Britain's winner-takes-all culture that Labour never attempted to civilise. The two extremes here in Europe's most unequal country mirror one another in the social dysfunction they cause. Sir Fred's mob thieves from fellow citizens and their pension funds by avoiding tax and snatching monstrous "remuneration" instead of mugging and looting, but "everyone does it" is how they would each explain their milieu.

Directors of failed banks and companies are all scuttling off with mighty swag. The law is on Sir Fred's side: probably nothing can be done. It's no use Gordon Brown bleating about it now. Over many years plenty of us at the Guardian, and many in his own party, have questioned him about his craven treatment of obscene City booty. He would shrug it off with irritation as an irrelevance and go back to boosting the City. To whisper higher taxes or strict remuneration controls was anathema.

Brown had never protested about the bonus culture until he was outflanked by the Tories. He had never suggested raising the top tax rate to 45% until Obama won on that ticket. The people were always miles ahead of Labour: for years polls have shown that some 75% consistently feel the gap between rich and poor is far too wide. But Labour was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich", revelling in the bubble that is now over. Even if some have yet to get that message.

Read the rest of it at


Death of a Child

There was an excellent letter in the Guardian yesterday from a certain Martin Wyness:

“Gordon Brown is right when he says the death of a child was an unbearable sorrow that no parent should ever have to endure. I hope he and other politicians remember this truth the next time they back an illegal war, only mildly chastise the Israelis over Gaza, . . . Sadly it only highlights how they care for their own while being willing to sacrifice people in foreign lands to abstract notions. Iraq has seen thousands of innocent children killed, Gaza saw hundreds . . .


Marina Hyde’s Saturday column was terrific, as usual.

“Give to the rich to help the poor? An idea worthy of Bono.”


Creativity & Culture

Mark Lawson reported yesterday on participation in creativity and culture, and on Venezuela’s scheme to provide musical instruments and tuition for all children - a subject I’ve written about previously:

“In late spring, the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela will take part in a series of events aimed at popularising here El Sistema, the pioneering music educational scheme which took the country's slumdogs and gave them hope and employment through participation in an orchestra: a Scottish version of the Sistema is being attempted near Stirling.

And the UK - in which the availability of musical instruments to state school children has been low and slow in recent years - should be deeply shamed by the fact that the example of best practice in musical education was forged in one of the poorest parts of the world.”

I’ve tried to think positive things about Mark Lawson, but I’m inclined to think that he’s a cultural snob, who makes a nice living from his cultural commentaries, but doesn’t really get it. He end his piece with this crappy conclusion -

“Doing” (art & creativity) “must not be seen as more important than viewing.” MUST? NOT? Really?

Well Mark’s the eternal voyeur, so he would say that, I guess. His own creativity consists of telling us in his usual gushing fashion about the creativity of proper artists, so of course he’s not going to attach much importance to the arts and crafts of the little people. The more we pay attention to enjoying and fulfilling ourselves with creative pursuits, the less attention we pay to pundits like him, which will never do.

As for his idea that Chavez and Venezuela’s ‘art for all’ approach amounts to “the most direct attempt there has been to use creativity as social engineering” - what ridiculous bollocks. In what way?

Some sort of dangerous revolutionary stuff, I suppose, allowing, enabling and encouraging people to enjoy creating their own music, instead of sitting back and worshipping classical music played by elite professionals.

Whatever next? Jazz? Rock? Blues? Heaven help us.


Hoots Mon

Meanwhile the turgid Ian Jack writes about the fact that the majority of people involved in the ongoing UK financial and banking crisis are Scottish, including Brown and Darling, of course.

His point is that ‘refined’ Scots accents have apparently, until now, been perceived as a mark of honesty and integrity. But no more, clearly.

“Sadly, remembering that neither nationhood nor social class is a barrier to incompetence and greed, the rest of the world may have to adjust the inferences it draws from a Scottish voice.”

I well remember a former Scottish colleague who frequently uttered the stock phrases, “To be honest wi’ you . . .” and “To be perfectly honest . . . ” which always made me think that anything which wasn’t prefaced by these hackneyed clichés - these verbal mannerisms - ought to be treated with great suspicion, and with the assumption that he was a two-faced bastard who habitually lied through his teeth. Which indeed he was.

To be perfectly honest, I never believed a word of what he said.

Thank goodness there are lots of perfectly lovely Scottish people. None of them bankers.

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